Posts Tagged ‘space’

Places as Playmates: Alternative educational architecture

In Excerpts on July 19, 2011 at 6:52 am

Over on Bobulate, Liz Danzico asks what places we consider playmates:

“The simple form of a tree provides inspiration for a kindergarten space and movement as a tool for learning:

‘In “Philosophical Investigations,” Ludwig Wittgenstein writes that what children and foreigners have in common is the absence of knowledge of language and a set of codified rules. This leads them — in the first instance — to learn through the senses and the body. To give the children more freedom to move around the school, the directors of the Fuji Kindergarten requested Tezuka to design spaces without furniture: no chairs, desks or lecterns. As a result, “Ring Around a Tree” offers an architecture where there are no measures taken to constrain space, in order to liberate the body.’

And that includes the floors of the structure itself:

‘The space created by Tezuka seems to have just two floors, but for the children the building has six floors with volumes that are one meter high. The compressed spaces, which can only be reached by crawling, further the freedom of movement and ability to use the body as a means of learning.’

The tree was a “place-playmate” for several generations — a treehouse, a waiting shelter, a climbing space — before recently transformed. What places do we consider playmates, and how might they be, should they be, transformed?”


In Excerpts, Thoughts on April 13, 2011 at 6:05 pm

About 400 miles from where tsunami waves slowly consumed the town of Ishinomaki, a facility near Hida, Japan, buried 3,000 feet underground, continued its search for supernova, atmospheric, and solar neutrinos.

neu-tri-no noun

neutrino is an elementary particle that usually travels close to the speed of light, is electrically neutral, and is able to pass through ordinary matter almost unaffected. This makes neutrinos extremely difficult to detect. Neutrinos have a very small, but nonzero mass. They are denoted by the Greek letter ν (nu).

Origin: Italian, from neutro neutral, neuter, from Latin neutr-, neuter

First Known Use: 1934

Rhymes with: Aquino, Latino, merino

You can read more about them if you want, but I have little interest—and not nearly enough time—to understand precisely what Wikipedia is trying so desperately, in more than 25 sub-sections to tell me. I’m interested in this thing—it goes by Super-Kamiokande, Super-K for short—for the architectural and aesthetic onslaught it delivers.

I don’t need to mention the immediate sense of living in a science-fiction graphic novel or the absolute absence of determinable scale. I don’t need to explain the disorienting nature of a 100-foot tall, water-bottomed tank, lined with photomultiplier tubes.

What goes on inside, via W:

A neutrino interaction with the electrons or nuclei of water can produce a charged particle that moves faster than the speed of light in water. This creates a cone of light known as Cherenkov radiation, which is the optical equivalent to a sonic boom. The Cherenkov light is projected as a ring on the wall of the detector and recorded by the PMTs. Using the timing and charge information recorded by each PMT, the interaction vertex, ring direction and flavor of the incoming neutrino is determined. From the sharpness of the edge of the ring the type of particle can be inferred. The multiple scattering of electrons is large, so electromagnetic showers produce fuzzy rings. Highly relativistic muons, in contrast, travel almost straight through the detector and produce rings with sharp edges.

I’m following it a bit until “highly relativistic muons, in contrast, travel almost straight through the detector.” Muons? No idea. An event in 2001, however, I can imagine. And I imagine it would’ve been terrifying had anyone been inside at the time.

On November 12, 2001, about 6,600 of the photomultiplier tubes (costing about $3000 each [8]) in the Super-Kamiokande detector imploded, apparently in a chain reaction as the shock wave from the concussion of each imploding tube cracked its neighbours.

Perhaps the following image comes from the repair work that was done on the 6,000 damaged tubes.

Someone over at BionicBong—a much more learned blog than its name implies—made the observation that “it’s good to see that no matter how hi-tech it gets, things are still done with standard office chairs.” Despite the fact that Super-K was built in 1996, it’s incredible that some of these images, and even the whole aesthetic somehow feels like a 1970s made-for-television movie.

More incredible still is that apparently these neutrino detectors are not all the same. One in Sudbury, Ontario, just 12 hours from here, is perhaps even more other-worldly:

(In the second photo, I enjoy how the white material hangs like a wilting petunia, a long red stamen bursting from its center.)

A world I don’t understand. But one that requires incredible architectural skill. And one that will forever fascinate those of us who will never worry about photomultiplier implosion.

Shrinking ourselves—and our animals—for space travel

In Excerpts, Thoughts on March 25, 2011 at 10:47 am

Some animals would be terrifying if they were any bigger than they are. A 7-foot praying mantis, for instance. Or a 2-ton frog. But making big animals small immediately renders them adorable. I fell in love a long time ago with the idea of a cow the size of a Scottish terrier. Or a triceratops the size of a rabbit.

Now, in the surprisingly silly world of serious science, a few researchers are exploring the idea of shrinking both humans and our livestock, not to make them cuter but for more practical applications. Donald Platt, of the Florida Institute for Technology:

If we can make livestock smaller we can take some with us and then have them available at our new home, perhaps on Mars. It may even be possible to modify ourselves and make humanity smaller. This would be very beneficial for space travel where mass and volume are limited, and a surface base on another planet where gravity is less and resources are scarce.

GOOD’s Food Hub explores this idea’s implication on food, and mentions a project by Arne Hendriks called The Incredible Shrinking Man. Part of it is a restaurant concept called The Disproportionate Restaurant.

We have already established that you would only need one coffee bean for an espresso and one chicken could feed up to a hundred people. To better understand what that means we’re planning to roast an entire ostrich carcass as if it were a chicken.

Our built environment would obviously be affected. At 50 cm (19.7 inches), existing structures would all seem like skyscrapers; distances would stretch out—walking a couple of miles would suddenly be quite formidable. The meaning of “human-scale” would change. Eventually, though we’d be limited in strength and speed, our new size would open up new ways to organize cities, perhaps building urban passageways around and through the now abandoned (or maybe retrofitted) structures. Perhaps a 30-story building would become a 90-story building, as each floor was divided into three.

If not all animals shrunk with us, and I don’t see how they could be, the natural environment would pose problems too. Coyotes, hawks, rats, stray dogs. We’d still be bigger than a praying mantis, but some of these others would become slightly harder to deal with.

As we’ll shrink, our environment and everything in it will appear a lot larger. The fear of large animals and objects is called megalophobia. Shrinking mankind could involve a growth in the number of megalophobiacs, especially in relation to other creatures.

Then there’s the issue of the brain.

And the brain would have to function at slightly under 30 grams (and not with the 1400 grams we have at present). That’s about the size of a cat brain. No need to stress the fact that we’ll need to find a solution for that one.

It’s probably important to note that while this is enjoyable to explore, I don’t support any efforts to actually genetically modify human beings; history teaches us that our idealistic, technological fixes usually backfire significantly. It is interesting to note, however, that the built environment has been retrofitted for little people before—in Ypsilanti, Michigan. During World War II.


Last image by Robert Therrien.

Time | Nature | Solitude | What am I longing for?

In Thoughts on February 22, 2011 at 2:17 pm

What am I longing for?

Every few weeks, maybe every four or five, I remember a building, though it’s more a structure, or a space, or a container than a building. But I go to it. And I look.

And I wonder: What am I longing for?

Is it the solitude? The removal of myself from day-to-day distractions?

Is it nature? Do I yearn for the disorganization found in the wild parts of the world?

Is it time? To set up shop and create, without the constraints of 8 o’clock, noon, midnight?

Whatever it is, there must be something in this space—and its environs—that promises it.